Battle of Rich Mountain Summary
The Battle of Rich Mountain was fought from July 10-11, 1861. Union forces, led by General William Rosecrans, flanked Confederate troops at the Hart farm and Camp Garnett. Despite initial resistance, Rosecrans overcame the Confederates at the Hart farm, while General George B. McClellan called off his attack on Camp Garnett due to miscommunication. Confederate General Robert S. Garnett evacuated Camp Garnett and retreated toward Corrick’s Ford. The Union victory at Rich Mountain helped secure Federal control over Western Virginia, paving the way for the formation of the State of West Virginia.
Battle of Rich Mountain History and Overview
During the summer of 1861, Union and Confederate forces struggled for control of western Virginia. The area was highly important because gaps in the Appalachian Mountains connected the East to the Midwest. The Virginia Militia acted quickly, disrupting traffic on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and taking control of turnpikes through the mountains.
The U. S. War Department countered by sending 20,000 troops into the area under the command of Major General George McClellan. McClellan’s forces pressed the Confederate troops in the area throughout the summer and fall, gradually driving Confederate forces out of the region, paving the way for the creation of the State of West Virginia in October 1861, although the federal government did not formally recognize the new state until June 1863.
Battle of Philippi
On June 3, 1861, Union troops commanded by Brigadier General Thomas A. Morris surprised a Confederate encampment at Philippi, Virginia, and scored a Union victory. Many historians consider the Battle of Philippi to be the first significant land engagement in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.
Garnett Takes Charge
On June 15, the Confederate government placed Brigadier General Robert Selden Garnett in charge of the forces opposing McClellan in western Virginia. Garnett inherited a difficult situation. With just 4,600 soldiers, Confederate officials expected him to stem a federal onslaught that was gradually pushing the Confederates to the south and east. Garnett deployed his troops at two key passes through the mountains. He sent Lieutenant Colonel John Pegram, in charge of roughly 1,300 men, to guard the pass at Rich Mountain, just west of Beverly. Garnett took personal command of the rest of his force, which was guarding the pass at Laurel Hill north of Beverly. Under the direction of Colonel Jonathan M. Heck, the Confederates constructed a fortified position at Rich Mountain, known as Camp Garnett.
McClellan Plans to Attack
While Garnett’s men were busily erecting fortifications at Laurel Hill and Rich Mountain, McClellan arrived at Grafton on June 23, 1861, to coordinate an attack upon the Confederates. McClellan moved three divisions south from Clarksburg and ordered Morris’s brigade at Philippi to join him.
On July 6, McClellan set out toward the Confederate strongholds. After meeting light resistance from Confederate skirmishers, he established his headquarters at Roaring Creek, two miles west of Camp Garnett, on July 9. McClellan devised a plan calling for Morris’s brigade to demonstrate in front of Laurel Mountain, keeping Garnett in place, while McClellan sent the bulk of his force against Pegram at Rich Mountain.
Unsure of Pegram’s strength, McClellan was reluctant to order a frontal attack against the Confederate defenses at Rich Mountain. As McClellan deliberated, a local Union sympathizer, David Hart, informed the Federals of a remote route that led to his family’s farm near the crest of Rich Mountain. Upon learning this, Brigadier General William Rosecrans convinced McClellan to allow Rosecrans to lead a force over the mountain to attack Pegram from the rear.
July 10–11, 1861 — Rich Mountain Battle
July 10 — Rosecrans Advance and McClellan Deploys
Leading a force of 2,000 soldiers, Rosecrans began his expedition at 4 a.m. on July 10. His orders were to subdue a small Confederate contingent at the Hart farm and then to move down the mountain to attack Camp Garnett. While Rosecrans was performing his flanking movement, McClellan was establishing his position in front of Rich Mountain to catch the Confederates in a pincer movement.
Meanwhile, Pegram learned of Rosecrans’ flanking maneuver and detached two companies of the 20th Virginia to reinforce the position at the Hart farm. The rugged trail and bad weather prevented Rosecrans from reaching the Hart farm until after 2 p.m. When he arrived, he encountered stiff resistance from approximately 300 Confederates commanded by Captain Julius A. De Lagnel. The two forces engaged at 3 p.m., and De Lagnel’s outnumbered soldiers held off the Federals for two hours before being subdued.
July 11 — McClellan Retreats
After securing the Hart farm, Rosecrans’s orders were to turn and attack Camp Garnett, but the hour was so late that he decided to wait until morning. Having lost communication with Rosecrans and not hearing any sounds signaling an attack on Pegram’s rear, McClellan assumed the worst. Although his command of 4,000 soldiers vastly outnumbered the 1,000 Confederate defenders left at Camp Garnett, McClellan called off his attack and pulled back to his encampment at Roaring Creek.
Battle of Rich Mountain Outcome
Finding that Rosecrans was at his rear, Pegram ordered the evacuation of Camp Garnett during the night of July 11-12. About one-half of the retreating Confederates made it to Beverly, but pursuing Federals captured Pegram and the others on July 13. Upon hearing of Pegram’s retreat, Garnett abandoned his position at Laurel Hill. As his troops retreated, Garnett was mortally wounded while directing his rearguard, on July 13, making him the first general officer to die in the Civil War.
Casualties at the Battle of Rich Mountain were light by later Civil War standards. The Union lost forty-six men (killed, wounded, and captured/missing), and the Confederacy lost 300 soldiers (mostly prisoners).
The Union victory at Rich Mountain helped to secure federal control of western Virginia and contributed to the establishment of the state of West Virginia. In the wake of a few more Union victories in the region that autumn, residents of thirty-nine counties in western Virginia approved the formation of the new state on October 24. On June 20, 1863, officials in Washington completed the formalities and admitted West Virginia to the Union.
Battle of Rich Mountain Significance
The Union victory at the Battle of Rich Mountain contributed to the eventual Confederate withdrawal from western Virginia and the formation of the State of West Virginia.
Battle of Rich Mountain Facts
Date and Location
- July 10-11, 1861
- Randolph County, Virginia (now West Virginia)
Principal Union Commanders
Principal Confederate Commanders
- Brigadier General Richard S. Garnett
- Colonel John Pegram
Union Forces Engaged
- Department of the Ohio
Confederate Forces Engaged
Number of Union Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 6,000
Number of Confederate Soldiers Engaged
- Roughly 1,300
Estimated Union Casualties
- 46 (killed, wounded, captured/missing)
Estimated Confederate Casualties
- 300 (killed, wounded, captured/missing), mostly prisoners
- Union victory
Battle of Rich Mountain Timeline
These are the main events and battles of the Western Virginia Campaign that took place around the Battle of Rich Mountain.
- June 3, 1861 — Battle of Philippi
- July 6–7, 1861 — Battle of Middle Fork Bridge
- July 11, 1861 — Battle of Rich Mountain
- July 13, 1861 — Battle of Corrick’s Ford
- July 17, 1861 — Battle of Scary Creek
- August 26, 1861 — Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes
- September 10, 1861 — Battle of Carnifex Ferry
- September 12–15, 1861 — Battle of Cheat Mountain
- October 3, 1861 — Battle of Greenbrier River
- December 13, 1861 — Battle of Camp Allegheny